A Divorce Fellowship for Mothers

What if money didn't keep mothers from getting divorced?

A Divorce Fellowship for Mothers

I have a friend who needs to get out of a bad situation. She needs to get her three kids out of the bad situation too. 

There are some things people trying to leave bad situations need. I am not going to try to make an exhaustive list of all those things. But the first few that come to mind are the will to leave, a safe place to go and money. 

Some might argue that of the three, the will to leave is the most important. But in America, that’s only true if you’ve already got the money. Money can buy a safe place to go. And financial security will certainly help support the will to leave. 

Money is the thing my friend doesn’t have.

I am not gearing up to ask you for money for her, by the way. As I’ve been typing this, I can see that it appears that way. I’m going to help organize “a leave a bad situation fund” with mutual friends. 

But I have been thinking about money a lot lately. The way enough can free us, too much can corrupt us, and not enough can condemn us. And how gendered that distribution is in our country. And how rooted in white supremacy that gender distribution is by design.

Do you ever fantasize about how you’d spend a significant sum of money if you ever became the type of person who had a significant sum of money that needed spending?

I do, sometimes. 

In my dreams, I’m a woman of significant means because I’ve written a series of bestsellers and get to talk about all my weird ideas for exorbitant speaking fees. 

And here we’re not going to be embarrassed about our dreams, okay? Did you ever see Home Fries? It’s an odd little movie with Luke Wilson and Drew Barrymore. I haven’t seen it since I was a teenager. But as a teen, I watched it all the time. So I remember bits and pieces. 

There’s a scene where Drew Barrymore tells Luke Wilson it’s always been her dream to become a country singer like Dolly Parton. Wilson asks her if she can sing. Barrymore smiles, “No, that’s why it’s a dream.”


I’m not a saint. So some of those dream means would go towards a dream house*, one dream Thom Browne suit for Riley** and a dream yearly vacation where I could eat out three times a day without worrying about the cost.*** 

In my dreams, I use the rest of the money to start a Divorce Fellowship for Mothers. An academic fellowship often comes with a stipend, a place to work and a community. My dream fellowship would come with a version of those things too. 

It would cover lawyer fees throughout the divorce. The fellowship would also provide funds for housing and childcare for the years immediately following the divorce. There’d be a concierge care team available to each mother - people dedicated to helping them navigate the transition, from arranging moving services to finding mental healthcare professionals for them or their kids. 

Traditional fellowships are, by design, inequitable. They’re created for the most promising writers, artists, scholars, and other idea-havers. There are a lot most promising people. And so lots of people apply for fellowships and lots get turned away. (I guess you could assume I am speaking from experience here. Not as a “most promising person,” but as someone who hoped she’d appear promising enough and didn’t, quite.) 

Of course, a person shouldn’t have to prove their promise to get the means to get a divorce. (And what the hell is promise anyways?) So how would the Divorce Fellowship for Mothers committee choose which mothers got the fellowship? Social worker referrals? Means-testing? First come, first serve? Every option has fundamental flaws.

I can’t ever figure out how to make my Divorce Fellowship for Mothers equitable or expansive. Even in my dreams, there is no way for me to get enough means to help enough. And that’s true of every single private entity, no matter what any billionaire says on whatever stage they’ve funded. 

My Divorce Fellowship for Mothers would only need to exist in a country as inequitable and contracted as our own. And a country could only become as inequitable and contracted as America by relying on billionaire noblesse oblige, instead of a publicly-funded care commons. A care commons would include affordable housing, healthcare and childcare.

This is usually called a social safety net because it can catch people when they fall. But I don’t think leaving a marriage has anything to do with falling. I think it’s a lot like weeding, which is a vital part of the work of cultivation. So care commons, with its nod to an agrarian history of the commons, feels much more apt. 

Of course, if a care commons made housing, healthcare and childcare easy to figure out, more mothers would leave their marriages. And fewer mothers would get married in the first place. Some would point to that outcome as an argument against a care commons. What would happen to society if women weren’t kept in marriages by economic hardship?

And the answer is really just so simple. Society is just a word that describes a way a community has chosen to order people and things. If we ordered our society around care instead of capital, society would be simply be re-ordered. 

It would be a society where billionaires paid taxes and those taxes were used to enrich the soil of the care commons. It would be a society where women could take their kids and leave before their husbands killed them all. It would be a society where people didn’t have to crowdfund their friends’ escapes from bad marriages. 

It would be a society where no one had to cite abuse or fear to leave a marriage. They could just leave, because it was best for them and theirs. It would be a society where a fantasy about a Divorce Fellowship was both redundant and horrifying. What kind of country would require such a thing? 

I don’t really have a neat conclusion to this newsletter. We need structural change. Other countries have figured out how to create some version of a care commons. We could figure it out too. And we might. But the figuring it out won’t come in time for people who need help right now. Like my friend. Or your friends. Or maybe even you. 

So we’ve got to push for that change, while helping one another. Even if we never become country singers or bestselling authors. Sometimes that will mean crowdfunding escapes, sometimes that will mean employing other means. We’ve got to promise to fellowship one another the best we can even though it won’t be enough. Maybe especially because it won’t be enough. I guess is all I’m saying.

*1800 square feet on one level, each room separated from the other with framed doorways, bookshelves on most walls, and art on the others, the kind of house that is all cozy corners and wallpaper. Just enough yard for wildflowers and a few chairs. Hidden away by tall trees, but an easy walk to places where lots of people gather.

**he’s always loved high fashion and I think in a different life, he’d have been vey happy and successful as a clothing designer. 

***And also, unlimited street-side snacks in between each meal.